Lydia of the Pines/Chapter 8

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pp. 128–145.



"Each year I strew the ground with cones, yet no young pines grow up. This has been true only since the Indians went."

The Murmuring Pine.

MARGERY MARSHALL had entered High School this fall. She had returned from New York with a trousseau that a bride might have envied. She was growing tall, and her beauty already was remarkable. Her little head carried its great black braid proudly. The pallor of her skin was perfectly healthy—and even the Senior lads were seen to observe her with interest and appreciation.

The results of Lydia's summer dressmaking had not been bad. She had made herself several creditable shirtwaists and a neat little blue serge skirt. Her shoes were still shabby. Poor Lydia seemed somehow never to have decent shoes. But her hands and the back of her neck were clean; and her pile of Junior school books already had been paid for—by picking small fruit for Ma Norton during the summer and helping her to can it. She came back to school with zeal and less than her usual sense of shabbiness.

It was a day toward the first of October at the noon hour that Lydia met Kent and Charlie Jackson. She had finished her lunch, which she ate in the cloakroom, and bareheaded and coatless was walking up and down the sidewalk before the schoolhouse.

"Hello, Lyd! How's everything?" asked Kent. "I haven't seen you to talk to since last spring."

"Did you have a fine summer?" said Lydia.

"Aw, only part of it. Dad made me work till the middle of August, then Charlie and I camped up on the reservation."

"Shame he had to work, isn't it?" grinned Charlie. "Poor little Kent!"

The three laughed, for Kent now towered above Lydia a half head and was as brawny as Charlie.

"There comes Margery," said Lydia. "She hardly speaks to me now, she's been to New York."

"She is a peach," exclaimed Charlie, eying Margery in her natty little blue suit appraisingly.

"Some swell dame, huh?" commented Kent, his hands in his trousers' pockets, cap on the back of his head. "Hello, Marg! Whither and why?"

"Oh, how de do, Kent!" Margery approached languidly, including Lydia and Charlie in her nod.

"Got any paper dolls in your pocket, Miss Marshall?" inquired Charlie.

Margery tossed her head. "Oh, I gave up that sort of thing long ago!"

"Land sakes!" The young Indian chuckled.

"How do you like High School, Margery?" asked Lydia.

"Oh, it's well enough for a year or so! Of course Mama, I mean—Mother's going to send me to New York to finish."

"'Mother!' suffering cats!" moaned Kent. "Marg, you're getting so refined, I almost regret having pulled you out of the lake that time."

"You! Why Kent Marshall, I pulled her out myself!" exclaimed Lydia.

"And I saved both of you—and got licked for it," said Kent.

"I hope you all had a pleasant summer," observed Margery, twisting up the curls in front of her small ears. "Mother and I were in New York."

Kent, Lydia and Charlie exchanged glances.

"I had a pretty good summer," said Lydia. "I sewed and cooked and scrubbed and swam and once Adam, Dad, Mr. Levine and I walked clear round the lake, eighteen miles. Adam nearly died, he's so fat and bow-legged. He scolded all the way."

"I don't see how your father can let that Mr. Levine come to your house!" exclaimed Margery with sudden energy. "My father says he's a dangerous man."

"He's a crook!" said Charlie, stolidly and finally.

Lydia stamped her foot. "He's not and he's my friend!" she cried.

"You'd better not admit it!" Margery's voice was scornful. "Daddy says he's going to speak to your father about him."

"Your father'd better not go up against Levine too hard," said Kent, with a superior masculine air. "Just tell him I said so."

"You don't stick up for Levine, do you, Kent?" asked Charlie, indignantly.

"Why, no, but Dave Marshall's got no business to put his nose in the air over John Levine. I don't care if he is Margery's father. Everybody in town knows that he's as cruel as a wolf about mortgages and some of his money deals won't bear daylight."

"Don't you dare to say such things about my father," shrieked Margery.

"He was awful good to Dad and me about a money matter," protested Lydia.

"Aw, all of us men are good to you, Lyd," said Kent impatiently. "You're that kind. Being good to you don't make a man a saint. Look at Levine. He's got a lot of followers, but I'll bet you're the only person he's fond of."

"He's a crook," repeated Charlie, slowly. "If what he's trying to do goes through, my tribe'll be wanderers on the face of the earth. If I thought it would do any good, I'd kill him. But some other brute of a white would take his place. It's hopeless."

The three young whites looked at the Indian wonderingly. Their little spatting was as nothing, they realized, to the mature and tragic bitterness that Charlie expressed. A vague sense of a catastrophe, epic in character, that the Indian evidently saw clearly, but was beyond their comprehension, silenced them. The awkward pause was broken by the school bell.

Lydia had plenty to think of on her long walk home. Charlie's voice and words haunted her. What did it all mean? Why was he so resentful and so hopeless? She made up her mind that when she had the opportunity to ask him, she would. She sighed a little, as she thought of the comments of her mates on John Levine. Little by little she was realizing that she was the only person in the world that saw the gentle, tender side of the Republican candidate for Congress. The realization thrilled her, while it worried her. She had an idea that she ought to make him show the world the heart he showed to her. As she turned in at the gate and received Adam's greetings, she resolved to talk this matter over with Levine.

The opportunity to talk with Charlie came about simply enough. At recess one day a week or so later he asked her if she was going to the first Senior Hop of the year. Lydia gave him a clear look.

"Why do you ask me that? Just to embarrass me?" she said.

Charlie looked startled. "Lord knows I didn't mean anything," he exclaimed. "What're you so touchy about?"

Lydia's cheeks burned redder than usual. "I went to a party at Miss Towne's when I was a Freshman and I promised myself I'd never go to another."

"Why not!" Charlie's astonishment was genuine.

"Clothes," replied Lydia, briefly.

The Indian boy leaned against a desk and looked Lydia over through half-closed eyes. "You're an awful pretty girl, Lydia. Honest you are, and you've got more brain in a minute than any other girl in school'll have all her life."

Lydia blushed furiously. Then moved by Charlie's simplicity and obviously sincere liking, she came closer to him and said, "Then, Charlie, why hasn't any boy ever asked me to a party? Is it just clothes?"

Looking up at him with girlish wistfulness in the blue depths of her eyes, with the something tragic in the lines of her face that little Patience's death had written there irradicably, with poverty speaking from every fold of the blouse and skirt, yet with all the indescribable charm of girlish beauty at fifteen, Lydia was more appealing than Charlie could stand.

"Lydia, I'll take you to a party a week, if you'll go!" he cried.

"No! No! I couldn't go," she protested. "Answer my question—is it clothes?"

"No, only half clothes," answered Charlie, meeting her honestly. "The other half is you know too much. You know the fellows like a girl that giggles a lot and don't know as much as he does and that's a peachy dancer and that'll let him hold her hand and kiss her. And that's the honest to God truth, Lydia."

"Oh," she said. "Oh—" Then, "Well, I could giggle, all right. I can't dance very well because I've just picked up the steps from watching the girls teach each other in the cloakroom. Oh, well, I don't care! I've got Adam and I've got Mr. Levine."

"He's a nice one to have," sneered Charlie.

"Why do you hate him so, Charlie?" asked Lydia.

"Lots of reasons. And I'll hate him more if he gets his bill through Congress."

"I don't see why you feel so," said Lydia. "You get along all right without the reservation, why shouldn't the other Indians. I don't understand."

"No, you don't understand," replied Charlie, "you're like most of the other whites round here. You see a chance to get land and you'd crucify each other if you needed to, to get it. What chance do Indians stand? But I tell you this," his voice sank to a hoarse whisper and his eyes looked far beyond her, "if there is a God of the Indians as well as the whites, you'll pay some day! You'll pay as we are paying."

Lydia shivered. "Don't talk so, Charlie. I wish I knew all about it, the truth about it. If I was a man, you bet before I voted, I'd find out. I'd go up there on that reservation and I'd see for myself whether it would be better for the Indians to get off. That poor old squaw I gave my lunch to, I wonder what would become of her—"

"Look here, Lydia," exclaimed Charlie, "why don't you come up on the reservation for a camping trip, next summer, for a week or so?"

"Costs too much," said Lydia.

"Wouldn't either. I can get tents and it wouldn't cost you anything but your share of the food. Kent'll go and maybe one of the teachers would chaperone."

Lydia's eyes kindled. "Gee, Charlie, perhaps it could be fixed! I got nine months to earn the money in. It's something to look forward to."

Charlie nodded and moved away. "You'll learn things up there you never dreamed of," he said.

The conversation with John Levine did not take place until the Sunday before the election. The fight in the Congressional district had increased in bitterness as it went on. Nothing but greed could have precipitated so malevolent a war. The town was utterly disrupted. Neighbors of years' standing quarreled on sight. Students in the University refused to enter the classrooms of teachers who disagreed with them on the Levine fight. Family feuds developed. Ancient family skeletons regarding pine grafts and Indian looting saw the light of day.

On the Saturday a week before election, Lydia went to pay her duty call on Margery. Elviry admitted her. It was the first time Lydia had seen her since the New York trip.

"Margery'll be right down," said Elviry. "She's just finished her nap."

"Her what?" inquired Lydia, politely.

"Her nap. A New York beauty doctor told me to have her take one every day. Of course, going to school, she can't do it only Saturdays and Sundays. She went to the Hop last night. She looked lovely in a cream chiffon. One of the college professors asked who was that little beauty. Come in, Margery."

Margery strolled into the room in a bright red kimona. "How de do, Lydia," she said.

"Hello, Margery. Want to play paper dolls?"

"Paper dolls!" shrieked Elviry. "Why, Margery, you are fifteen!"

"I don't care," replied Lydia obstinately. "I still play 'em once in a while."

"I haven't touched one since last spring," said Margery. "Want to see my New York clothes?"

"No, thank you," answered Lydia. "I'd just as soon not. I've got to get home right away."

"What's in that big bundle?" asked Elviry, pointing to the huge paper parcel in Lydia's lap.

"Nothing," she said shortly, looking at the rope portières in the doorway.

"I got new ones in the East," said Elviry, following her glance. "Shells strung together. But I put 'em up only when we have parties. We don't use anything but doilies on the dining table now, no tablecloths. It's the latest thing in New York. Who made your shirtwaist, Lydia?"

"I did," answered Lydia, not without pride.

"I thought so," commented Elviry. "How much was the goods a yard—six cents? I thought so. Hum—Margery's every day shirtwaists were none of them less than thirty-nine cents a yard, in New York. But of course that's beyond you. I don't suppose your father's had a raise, yet. He ain't that kind. Does he pay Levine any rent for that cottage?"

"Of course, every month!" exclaimed Lydia, indignantly.

"Oh! I just asked! Your father's been talking strong for him at the plow factory, they say, and we just wondered. He's old enough to be your father, but you're getting to be a young lady now, Lydia, and it's very bad for your reputation to be seen with him. You haven't any mother and I must speak."

"I don't see how John Levine's reputation about Indians or pine lands can hurt me any," protested Lydia, angrily, "and I just think you're the impolitest person I know."

Elviry snorted and started to speak but Margery interrupted.

"You are impolite, Mama! It's none of our business about Lydia—if she wants to be common."

Lydia rose, holding the paper parcel carefully in her arms. "I am common, just common folks! I always was and I always will be and I'm glad of it—and I'm going home."

The front door slammed as she spoke and Dave Marshall came in.

"Hello! Well, Lydia, this is a sight for sore eyes. Thought you'd forgotten us. What's in your bundle?"

Lydia spoke furiously, tearing the paper off the bundle as she did so.

"Well, since you're all so curious, I'll show you!" And Florence Dombey, with the hectic gaze unchanged, emerged. "There!" said Lydia. "I never shall be too old for Florence Dombey and I thought Margery wouldn't be either—but I was wrong. I wrapped Florence Dombey up because I do look too big for dolls and I don't want folks to laugh at her."

"Of course you're not too big for dolls," said Dave. "You and Margery go on and have your play."

"Daddy!" cried Margery. "Why, I wouldn't touch a doll now."

"There, you see!" said Lydia, laying Florence Dombey on a chair while she pulled on her coat—made this year from one that Lizzie had grown too stout to wear—"It's no use for me to try to be friends any more with Margery. She's rich and I'm common and poor. She has parties and beaux and clothes and I don't. I'll be friends with you but I can't be friends with her."

Dave looked from his two women folks to Lydia. "What've you two been saying now?" he asked gruffly.

Elviry tossed her head. "Nothing at all. I just showed a decent interest in Lydia, as I would in any motherless girl and she got mad."

"Yes, I know your decent interest," grunted Dave. "You make me sick, Elviry. Why I was ever such a fool as to let you spend a summer in New York, I don't know."

"Now, Dave," said Elviry in a conciliating tone, "you said that Lydia and Amos ought to be warned about Levine."

"Yes, I did," exclaimed Dave, with a sudden change of voice. "You tell your father to come round and see me this evening, Lydia. I don't like his attitude on the reservation question. Tell him if I can't change his views any other way, I may have to bring pressure with that note."

Lydia blanched. She looked at Marshall with parted lips. She never had heard before the peculiar, metallic quality in his voice that she heard now. She buttoned her coat with trembling fingers.

"Yes, sir, I'll tell him," she said. "I guess it's no use to try to be friends with you either. We'll pay that note up, somehow. Even it can't be allowed to keep us from believing what we believe." Her voice strengthened suddenly. "What's the use of being an American if you can't believe what you want to? We'll pay that note! If I have to quit school and go out as a hired girl, we will."

Dave Marshall looked from Lydia to Margery and back again. Margery was patting her curls. Lydia, holding the doll, returned his look indignantly.

"I'm not going to tell my father to come to see you. I'll answer right now. We'll think and say what we please and you can do whatever you want to about that nasty old note."

Dave suddenly laughed. "There, Elviry, that's what I mean about Lydia's being the real thing. You can't help my being your friend, Lydia, no matter what happens. But," grimly, "I'll call in that note unless your father shuts up."

"Good-by!" exclaimed Lydia abruptly and she marched into the hall, head held high, and closed the outside door firmly behind her.

It had been a long time since she had known the heavy sinking of the heart that she felt now. In spite of their desperate poverty, since her interview in the bank with Marshall four years before, she had not worried about money matters. She had an utter horror of repeating Marshall's message to her father. Money worry made Amos frantic. She plodded along the October road, unheeding the frosty sunshine or the scudding brown leaves that had charmed her on her earlier trip.

In the midst of one of her longest sighs, Billy Norton overtook her.

"Well, Lydia," he said, "isn't it chilly for your lady friend?"

"Hello, Billy," said Lydia, looking up at the young man soberly. Billy was a sophomore in college.

"I'll carry her, if your hands are cold, though I'd hate to be caught at it," he said.

Lydia ignored his offer. "Billy, is there any way a girl like me could earn $600?" she asked him.

"Golly, not that I know of! Why?"

"Oh, I just asked. I wish I was a man."

Billy looked at the scarlet cheeks and the blowing yellow curls. "I don't," he said. "What's worrying you, Lyd?"

"Nothing," she insisted. Then, anxious to change the subject, she asked, "What're you studying to be, Billy?"

"A farmer. Next year I shift into the long agric. course."

"Goodness!" exclaimed Lydia, "I don't see what you want to study to be a farmer for. I should think you'd want to be something classy like a lawyer or—or something."

"Lots of folks think the same way, but I believe a farmer's the most independent man in the world. And that's what I want to be, independent—call no man boss."

"That's me too, Billy," cried Lydia, pausing at her gate. "That's what I want to be, independent. That's what real Americans are."

"You're a funny little girl," said Billy. "What made you think of that?"

"I often think about it," returned Lydia, running up the path to the door.

Billy stood for a minute looking after her thoughtfully. Then he smiled to himself and went on homeward.

Lydia did not tell her father that night of Marshall's threat. He was in such a tranquil mood that she could not bear to upset him. But the next day she gathered her courage together and told him. Amos was speechless for a moment. Then to her surprise instead of walking the floor and swearing, he gave a long whistle.

"So it's that serious, is it? I wonder just what he's up to! The old crook! Huh! This will be nuts for John though. If he doesn't come out this afternoon, I'll go look him up this evening."

Lydia's jaw dropped. "But, Daddy, you don't seem to realize we'll have to pay $600 the first of January," she urged, her voice still trembling. She had scarcely slept the night before in dread of this moment.

For the first time, Amos looked at her carefully. "Why, my dear child, there's nothing to worry about!" he exclaimed.

"You mean you're going to stop talking for Mr. Levine? Oh, Daddy, don't do that! We can borrow the money somewhere and I'll help pay it back. I'm almost grown up now."

"'Stop talking'!" roared Amos. "I've fallen pretty far below what my ancestors stood for, but I ain't that low yet. Now," his voice softened, "you stop worrying. Levine and I'll take care of this."

Lydia looked at her father doubtfully and suddenly he laughed unsteadily and kissed her. "You get more and more like your mother. I've seen that look on her face a hundred times when I told her I'd fix up a money matter. I don't know what I'd do without you, Lydia, I swan."

This was rare demonstrativeness for Amos. The reaction from anxiety was almost too much for Lydia. She laughed a little wildly, and seizing Adam by his fore paws put him through a two step that was agony for the heavy fellow. Then she put on her coat, and bareheaded started for a walk. Amos stood in the window staring after the bright hair in the October sun until it disappeared into the woods. Then he sighed softly. "Oh, Patience, Patience, I wonder if you can see her now!"

Levine stole away from his various councils and reached the cottage about supper time.

"If I didn't get out here once in a while," he said as he sat down to the waffles and coffee that made the Sunday night treat Lydia had lately developed, "I'd get to believe every one was playing politics."

Lizzie, pouring the coffee, looked Levine over. "A bullet'd have hard work to hit you now," she remarked, "you're so thin. If you'd listen to me, you'd be taking Cod Liver Oil."

Levine smiled at the wrinkled old face opposite. "If I didn't listen to you, I don't know who I would. Aren't you and Lydia all the women folks I got? If you'll fix me up some dope, I'll take a dose every time I come out here."

Lizzie sniffed and loaded his plate with another waffle. Amos was giving no heed to these small amenities. He was eating his waffles absentmindedly and suddenly burst forth,

"Lydia, tell John about Dave Marshall."

Lydia, flushing uncomfortably, did so. Levine did not cease his onslaught on the waffles during the recital. When she had finished, he passed his coffee cup.

"Another cup, young Lydia. Your coffee is something to dream of."

Lydia was too surprised to take the cup. "But—but six hundred dollars. Mr. Levine!" she gasped.

"Good news, eh, Amos?" said Levine. "Getting anxious, isn't he!" Then catching Lydia's look of consternation, "Why, bless your soul, Lydia, what are you upset about? Let him call in the loan. I can pay it."

Amos nodded. "Just what I said."

"But I think that's awful," protested Lydia. "We owe Mr. Levine so much now."

The effect of her words on John was astonishing. He half rose from his chair and said in a tone not to be forgotten, "Lydia, never let me hear you speak again of owing me anything! Between you and me there can never be any sense of obligation. Do you understand me?"

There was a moment's silence at the table, Amos and Lizzie glanced at each other, but Lydia's clear gaze was on the deep eyes of Levine. What she saw there she was too young to understand, but she answered gravely,

"All right, Mr. Levine."

John sank back in his chair and passed his plate for a waffle.

"I'll make my interest and payments to you then, thank the Lord!" said Amos.

"We'll make them on time just as usual," remarked Lydia, in a voice that had both reproof and warning in it. "Ain't debts perfectly awful," she sighed.

"So Marshall's worried," repeated John, complacently, when they were gathered round the stove. "Well, it behooves him to be. I don't know what he'll do when the Indians are gone."

"Mr. Levine," asked Lydia, "where'll the Indians go?"

John shrugged his shoulders. "Go to the devil, most of them."

"Oh, but that seems terrible!" cried Lydia.

"No more terrible than the way they live and die on the reservation. My dear child, don't develop any sentiment for the Indian. He's as doomed as the buffalo. It's fate or life or evolution working out—whatever your fancy names it. No sickly gush will stop it. As long as the Indian has a pine or a pelt, we'll exploit him. When he has none, we'll kick him out, like the dead dog he is."

Lydia, her eyes round, her lips parted, did not reply. For a moment she saw the Levine that the world saw, cold, logical, merciless. John interpreted her expression instantly and smiled. "Don't look at me so, young Lydia. I'm just being honest. The rest talk about 'freeing the Indian.' I say damn the Indian, enrich the whites."

"It—it makes me feel sort of sick at my stomach," replied Lydia, slowly. "I suppose you're right, but I can't help feeling sorry for Charlie Jackson and my old squaw."

Levine nodded understandingly and turned to Amos. "What's the talk in the factory?" he asked.

During the half hour that followed, Lydia did not speak again nor did she hear any of the conversation. New voices were beginning to whisper to her. Try as she would to hush them with her faith in her father and John, they continued to query: How about the Indians? Whose is the land? What do you yourself believe?

When Levine rose at nine to leave, she followed him to the door. "Adam and I'll walk a way with you," she said, "while Dad puts his chickens to bed."

"Fine!" exclaimed John. "My wheel is out of commission so I have to walk to the trolley."

He glanced at Lydia a trifle curiously however. This was a new venture on her part. It was a clear, cold, starlit night. Lydia trudged along for a few moments in silence. Then Levine pulled her hand through his arm.

"Out with it, young Lydia," he said.

"Do you suppose," she asked, "that God is something like ether—or like electricity—in the air, everywhere, something that sort of holds us together, you know?"

"Well," replied John, slowly, "I wouldn't want to believe that. I want to find a God we can know and understand. A God that's tender and—and human, by Jove."

Lydia looked up at him quickly in the starlight. "After what you said about Indians to-night, you can't believe God could be tender and—and let that happen!"

Levine returned her look and smiled. "You score there, honey. Lydia, you're growing up. Your head's above my shoulder now."

The young girl nodded carelessly. "But I wanted to talk to you about taking the reservation, not about me."

"I guess we'd better do that another time. I don't dare to have you walk further with me. This is a lonesome road back for you. And besides, I don't want you to scold me."

"Scold you!" Lydia paused in her astonishment. "Why, I love you as much as I do anybody in the world. How could I scold you?"

Levine looked down into the shadowy, childish eyes. "Couldn't you? Well, you're a dear, anyhow. Now scoot and I'll watch till you reach the gate."

Lydia hesitated. She felt a change in John's manner and wondered if she had hurt his feelings. "Kiss me good night, then," she said. "You don't do it as regularly as you used to. If I don't watch you, you'll be finding some one else to travel with you."

John turned the little face up and kissed her gently on the forehead, but Lydia with rare demonstrativeness threw her arms about his neck and kissed his lips with a full childish smack.

"There!" she said complacently. "Come on, Adam! Don't wait, Mr. Levine. I'm safe with Adam."

But John Levine did wait, standing with his hand against his lips, his head bowed, till he heard the gate click. Then he lifted his face to the stars. "God," he whispered, "why do You make me forty-five instead of twenty-five?"